PNoy’s unfulfilled promise: Final peace deal with MILF

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Two years ago, on the 27th of March, President Benigno Aquino III envisioned enjoying a quiet sunset in Mindanao, as he pitched to members of Congress the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), the final peace deal signed between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Speaking against a backdrop of doves encircling the presidential seal, Aquino warned Congress that his administration will “not let peace be snatched from my people again.” After all, the peace agreement was 17 years in the making.

But even then, and despite the President’s seeming control over his allies at the House of Representatives and the Senate, Aquino and his government lost the battle for the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).

The BBL would have been the legal framework of the CAB. Several provisions of the BBL were met with opposition. The proposal, however, faced its slow death in Congress after the controversial Mamasapano clash, which put into question the ceasefire mechanism between the government and the MILF.

On Jan. 25, 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, more than 60 people were killed, including the so-called Special Action Force (SAF) 44, after government troops engaged in a gunfight with the MILF, its splinter group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and members of private armies.

The SAF operation was meant to neutralize high-profile terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. The MILF-Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, however, had not been informed of the operation.

Unfotunate

The political terrain had been difficult to have the BBL passed as trust and confidence on the rebel group had been put into question, especially after the Philippine National Police questioned what it said was an “overkill” of its men.

Facing the Senate, MILF chief negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said the encounter was “unfortunate.” Iqbal pointed out that there has been no armed hostilities between the government and the MILF since 2011.

“Please do not let this unfortunate incident be used to derail the 17 years of hard work and lessen ourselves for peace and justice. Let peace be our legacy. Let us be partners for peace,” Iqbal said.

A month after the tragedy, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Deles told university students attending a Bangsamoro peace forum that they should demand that when the BBL is put to a vote, it is the future of the children, “that will take center stage and not the 2016 electoral prospects of politicians.”

Malacañang had also blamed some opposition senators for the delay and eventual death of the BBL in the 16th Congress.

At the first anniversary of the signing of the CAB, Aquino said: “Should we trust those who say that the peace talks should be ceased, yet offer no other solutions? If we believe these people, where will they take us?”

“I get to wonder now: Are the ones calling to put a stop to the BBL those who will be the most affected by the transformation that we seek to make permanent for the Bangsamoro? Perhaps, their sole intention is to lord it over our countrymen once more, the moment that the old system is restored,” Aquino also said.

He had not lost hope then on the BBL, as Congress leaders and close allies Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. vowed to put the legislation to a vote by June 2015.

While the government and peace advocates remained hopeful of the BBL’s passage, time was running out on the proposal. The peace panel’s initial goal was to put in place the Bangsamoro Transition Authority by 2015, when it will serve as the interim government until the elections in 2016.

“If we sustain the momentum for peace, by 2016, the MILF will have shed its identity as a military force, and transformed itself into a political entity, casting its stake in democracy by vying for seats in the Bangsamoro elections,” Aquino had said.

House quorum, Bongbong’s substitute

The government’s timeline had been further affected by quorum woes in the House of Representatives, and the filing of a substitute bill of Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. to the Malacañang-drafted BBL. Marcos chairs the Senate Committee on Local Government, which led deliberations on the BBL.

Marcos’ substitute Basic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region (BLBAR) was submitted on August 2015 promising to be “more inclusive” than that of the BBL.

Aquino, during the May presidential campaign, had publicly blamed Marcos, and Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, for supposedly conniving to bury the BBL.

“Ang masaklap po, dito, tila dalawang senador lang ang nagkuntsabahan. Pagkatagaltagal pong inilabas ang report ng komite. Kahit nga po sa mga huling araw ng session, ay ‘di pa tapos mag-interpellate ang kakuntiyaba,” Aquino said.

Enrile was the last to interpellate the BLBAR.

As Aquino steps down from office on noon of June 30, he asks peace advocates to “take strength from the progress that we have made,” saying that he is ready to help contribute to the peace process even as a private citizen.

Reporting to his bosses what his six-year administration has done for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Aquino said: “There is a lot more to come if we continue along the road to a true and lasting peace. This is the right path. It is a path that has benefited those in the margins of society; and it is a path that heals the fractures within the country we share. And the message that we now send to our countrymen is: We must continue along this path.” —ALG, GMA News

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